A long time ago, C.S. Lewis wrote that the death of a loved one was like the amputation of a leg. The pain might eventually dull. The patient might eventually work out new ways to walk and live life. But they would remain aware of what had been lost for the rest of their life.
It’s been two years for us. And the limp still catches.
Two years since Melanie. Unbelievable.
Melanie, the 21-year-old cousin who had been staying with us for over a year, probably would have laughed at being remembered this hard for this long. She would have joked that it’s only because of the blanket for Missy that she left unfinished, or the dishes that stopped piling up in her bedroom before a much-delayed trip to the sink. She might have teased that at least we didn’t have to listen for the front door at night, to make sure she hadn’t lost her key in her backpack again.
She’d be wrong about that last one, by the way.
A little bit of me has never stopped listening for the door.
The world seemed to freeze on Jan. 26, 2018 when she was found in her bedroom. It almost seemed insulting that it should move on, without so much as a wobble in its orbit. Move on it did. It always does, in all its noise and wonder.
But maybe just a little more muffled than before.
No … no, that’s not quite right. Not anymore. If you’ve been through something similar – and too many of us have – you realize that the numbness is only temporary. After a little while, your awareness goes the other direction and becomes almost unbearably acute. Like Sherlock Holmes, you begin noticing even the smallest details that might connect to a memory.
When my Grandma Elsie passed, it was soccer that brought her back to me unexpectedly. Strange, since in the years I knew her, my English grandmother was a passionate Denver Broncos fan. But she had also been the one to explain a little soccer to us as kids … and that afternoon, with a World Cup game on TV and tea for Missy brewing on the stove, her memory was suddenly inescapable.
With Mel, it can sometimes be as small as an abrupt cold snap. (At 5’1” with a tiny frame, she had little insulation against freezing weather and little patience for it.) Or an online comment evoking her unique blend of sass and heart. Or the book she’d loaned shortly after moving in that I never did return (dang it).
Or, more subtly, a heightened awareness of other people and their hurts.
Because that was Melanie, too.
That last one, I suspect, has a lot of company. No one knows pain like the people who have been hurt badly, whether through a traumatic loss, a chronic illness, or some other wound to the body or soul that simply cannot fully heal. It damages. It isolates.
And sometimes, it amplifies. Having endured pain, you recognize it in others. Not just in sympathy, but in compassion, reaching out to join hurt to hurt.
We start to see each other’s limps. And with that, we walk together a little better than we did before.
I’m not saying that pain or loss is a good thing. I never could, especially after these last two years. But if we can learn to reach to each other’s pain, to see that it matters, that they matter – that, perhaps, is one of the best things of all.
No, the world never stops. But it can become closer.
Maybe even as close as a memory of Mel.